History of Indian space research

India's experience in rocketry began in ancient times when fireworks were first used in the country, a technology invented in neighbouring China, and which had an extensive two-way exchange of ideas and goods with India, connected by the Silk Road. Military use of rockets by Tipu Sultan during the Mysore War against the British inspired William Congreve to invent the Congreve rocket, predecessor of modern artillery rockets, in 1804. After India gained independence from British occupation in 1947, Indian scientists and politicians recognized the potential of rocket technology in both defence applications, and for research and development. Recognizing that a country as demographically large as India would require its own independent space capabilities, and recognising the early potential of satellites in the fields of remote sensing and communication, these visionaries set about establishing a space research organisation.


Dr. Vikram Sarabhai was the founding father of the Indian space program, and is considered a scientific visionary by many, as well as a national hero. After the launch of Sputnik in 1957 he recognized the potential that satellites provided. India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who saw scientific development as an essential part of India's future, placed space research under the jurisdiction of the Department of Atomic Energy in 1961. The DAE director Homi Bhabha, who was father of India's atomic programme, then established the Indian National Committee for Sapce Research (INCOSPAR) with Dr. Sarabhai as Chairman in 1962.

The Indian Rohini programme continued to launch sounding rockets of greater size and complexity, and the space programme was expanded and eventually given its own government department, separate from the Department of Atomic Energy. On August 15th 1969 the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was created from the INCOSPAR programme under the DAE, continued under the Space Commission and finally the Department of Space, created in June of 1972.


In the 1960s Sarabhai had taken part in an early study with NASA regarding the feasibility of using satellites for applications as wide as direct television broadcasting, and this study had found that it was the most economical way of transmitting such broadcasts. Having recognized the benefits that the satellites could bring to India from the very start, Sarabhai and the ISRO set about designing and creating an independent launch vehicle, capable of launching into orbit, and providing the valuable experience needed for the construction of larger launch vehicles in future. Recognizing the advanced capability India had in building solid motors with the Rohini series, and that other nations had favoured solid rockets for similar projects, the ISRO set about building the technology and infrastructure for the Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV). Inspired by the American Scout rocket, the vehicle would be a four-stage all-solid vehicle.

Aryabhata - India's first satellite

Meanwhile, India began developing satellite technology anticipating the remote sensing and communication needs of the future. India concentrated more on practical missions, directly beneficial to people instead of manned space programs or robotic space explorations. The Aryabhata satellite, launched in 1975 from Kapustin Yar using a Soviet Cosmos-3M launch vehicle, was India's first satellite.

SLV - India's first satellite launch vehicle

By 1979 the SLV was ready to be launched from a newly-established second launch site, the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC). The first launch in 1979 was a failure, attributed to a control failure in the second stage. By 1980 this problem had been worked out. The first indigenous satellite launched by India was called Rohini-1.


Following the success of the SLV, ISRO was keen to begin construction of a satellite launch vehicle that would be able to put truly useful satellites into polar orbits. Design of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) was soon underway. This vehicle would be designed as India's workhorse launch system, taking advantage of both old technology with large reliable solid-stages, and new liquid engines. At the same time, it was decided by the ISRO management that it would be prudent to develop a smaller rocket, based on the SLV, that would serve as a testbed for many of the new technologies that would be used on the PSLV. The Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) would test technologies like strap-on boosters and new guidance systems, so that experience could be gained before the PSLV went into full production.

Eventually, the ASLV was flight tested in 1987, but this launch was a failure. After minor corrections, another launch was attempted in 1988, this launch again failed, and this time a full investigation was launched into the cause, providing valuable experience, specifically because the ASLV's failure had been one of control - the vehicle could not be adequately controlled on removal of the stabilizing fins that were present on the SLV, so extra measures like improved maneuvering thrusters and flight control system upgrades were added. The ASLV development had also proven useful in the development of strap-on motor technology.


It was not until 1992 that the first successful launch of the ASLV took place. At this point the launch vehicle, which could only put very small payloads into orbit, had achieved its objective. In 1993 the time had come for the maiden flight of the PSLV. The first launch was a failure. The first successful launch took place in 1994, and since then, the PSLV has become the workhorse launch vehicle - placing both remote sensing and communications satellites into orbit, creating the largest cluster in the world, and providing unique data to Indian industry and agriculture. Continual performance upgrades have increased the payload capacity of the rocket significantly since then.

Under pressure, Glavkosmos halted the transfer of the associated manufacturing and design technology to India. Until then, ISRO had not been affected by technology transfer restrictions thanks to the political foresight of Sarabhai in indigenizing technology. However, elements of the ISRO management cancelled indigenous cryogenic projects in anticipation of the Russian deal. Instead of canceling the deal, Russia agreed to provide fully built engines instead, and India began developing an indigenous cryogenic engine to replace them, in the GSLV-II. There is still some controversy over the issue of the cryogenic engine acquisition, with many pointing to the decision to cancel indigenous projects as being a grave mistake - India would have likely had a fully indigenous engine operating by the time the GSLV launched if indigenous development had started from day one. Despite this one uncharacteristic slip in an otherwise extremely successful programme, and the loss of potential payload capacity over the decade that occurred as a result, ISRO pressed on.


Currently the most powerful Indian launch vehicle in operation; the first development flight of the GSLV took place in 2001. The program’s benefits have been scrutinized due to frequent payload cutbacks and delays. The indigenous cryogenic engine for the GSLV's upper stage was tested in 2007. ISRO has reconsidered the effectiveness of the GSLV for the needs of the 2000-2010 decade and began development of an indigenous and new heavy launch vehicle, GSLV III. The latter is not related to the GSLV-I/II and will be based around the proven format of liquid main stages and two solid strap-on boosters. It will resemble the Ariane 5 and other modern launchers and will have sufficient payload capacity for manned spaceflight. The inaugural flight is scheduled for 2008.

Chandrayaan 2008: ISRO intends to send a small robotic spacecraft into lunar orbit mounted on a modified PSLV. It will survey the surface of the moon in greater detail than ever before and attempt to locate resources. Countries, including the US have expressed interest in attaching their own payloads to the mission. ISRO and NASA have an agreement to carry two NASA probes as a payload.

AVATAR Scramjet: This is a long-term project to develop a reusable launch vehicle (RLV) restricted to the launch of satellites. Theoretically, AVATAR would be a cost effective launch vehicle for small satellites and therefore a commercially competitive launch system. A scaled-down technology demonstrator is scheduled to fly c.2008. Recently ISRO successfully tested a scramjet air breathing engine which produced Mach 6 for seven seconds. ISRO will continue research related to using scramjets in RLVs after 2010.

ISRO has entered the lucrative market of launching payloads of other nations. Prominent among them are the launches of Israel Space Agency’s, TecSAR spy satellite, and Israeli Tauvex-II satellite module. The CARTOSAT-2, launched on the July 2006, carried a small Indonesian payload of 56 kg.

Leveraging its expertise in cryogenic technology to design Hydrogen fuel cells to store and handling of hydrogen; ISRO teamed up with Tata motors to develop a prototype hydrogen passenger car for Indian market, expected to hit road by end of 2008.

On November 15, 2007 ISRO achieved a significant milestone through the successful test of indigenously developed Cryogenic Stage, to be employed as the upper stage of India's Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). The test was conducted for its full flight duration of 720 seconds on November 15, 2007 at Liquid Propulsion test facility at Mahendragiri, in Tamil Nadu. With this test, the indigenous Cryogenic Upper Stage has been fully qualified on the ground. The flight stage is getting ready for use in the next mission of GSLV (GSLV-D3) in 2008.

On April 28, 2008 ISRO successfully launched 10 satellites in a single mission further boosting it's capabilities in space.

This includes 690 kg CARTOSTAT-2 and another 83 kg mini Indian satellite, IMS-1; and eight other nano satellites made by various universities; and research and development institutions in Canada and Germany offered at a subsidized price as part of a goodwill gesture by the Indian Department of Space.

Sankalp Unit